Archive for 2014-15 Exeter University

Coaching Log – Dec 1, 2014

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2014-15.

The final training session of the calendar year featured 12 players. Unfortunately, two starters were among the absentees, which limited the opportunity to prepare for Wednesday’s final match of the term. It was a nice number to do some interesting and fun stuff for training purposes, though.

After dynamic warm-up I started them in 4-person over-the-net pepper, which is essentially like playing a version of cooperative small court doubles with one player at the net and one off (switching each time they put the ball over). At one point I had the two players at the next switch sides to mix up the “teams”, and then I also had one side of the court rotate to mix things further.

From there I have them do a short serving warm-up, and then had them play the amoeba serving game. I put them through five variations. First was full-court. Second was zones 4 & 5. Third was zones 1 & 2. Fourth was short. Fifth was deep. As always, the players had a lot of fun, and it was a tight 3-2 contest.

After serving they played speedball winners. I put them in groups of three with roughly even positional distributions. They played on a narrow court (about 2/3rds width). About halfway through I had two teams switch sides to mix things up.

To conclude I had them play 6 v 6. Because we didn’t have the full first team, and because it was the last session of the term, I created roughly equal teams rather than going A/B. Similar to training last week, the play featured one team serving 3 times, then the receiving team doing 1 minute of scramble. I had them go through all 6 rotations 1-4-6-3-5-2. Predictably, with the mixed teams the play was fairly sloppy, but the intensity and focus was pretty good.

This was my last session with the team. They will play away on Wednesday, but I won’t make the trip because of my PhD demands. Thursday evening is the annual Christmas dinner, which will be the club’s final official activity for the term, and probably my last direct involvement. To the extent that I will be around for the second term I will be fully engaged in getting my dissertation submitted, potentially developing academic papers for publication, working on other projects, and most importantly, trying to find myself a job.

Coaching Log – Nov 27, 2014

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2014-15.

Alas, Wednesday’s match didn’t see the team follow-up on last week’s victory. I wasn’t able to go on the trip because of my PhD work. Nor was the team captain able to make the trip because she had her own PhD commitment (presenting at a conference). To make matters worse, the starting OH1 was feeling ill (didn’t play well and sat out the second set), and they had just watched the men’s team lose 0-3 (albeit competitively). The first set was a blow out, but it was better after that from what I was told.

I only had 9 for this training due to an array of factors. Even though two starters and one fringe first teamer were among those absent, it still ended up being a pretty good session. The focus was there and the intensity level, while not super high, was reasonable given the mixture of talent levels.

After dynamic warm-up I had them do 3-person over-the-net pepper with one person acting as fixed setter on a rotating basis (about 2 minute cycles). From there I had them do serving & passing triads with each player going for 10 good passes, only counting if they called the ball, minus one for an overpass. I followed that up with serving – first 10-in-a-row good (apparently serving was an issue in the match the other day), then a few minutes to let them play around with jump serves for fun.

I then moved on to a variation on player winners. I had them play triples rather than doubles, but had it run on a half court to facilitate more rallies. That worked quite well as there were a number of good exchanges. I finished up with the Belly Drill playing full-court.

Coaching Log – Nov 24 2014

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2014-15.

The team has a long road trip on Wednesday for their next match, a big one against a team close to us in the table. That being the case, the focus for this training was on trying to continue to build on the momentum of last week’s win. I started them off doing some ball-handling, but quickly moved into game play with winners 3s on a narrow court. To begin with they were only allowed to hit down balls to work on proper movement to the ball, hitting technique, etc. After a while I switched that to back row attacks, and then eventually to allowing hitting on the net.

The rest of training was done in 6 v 6 fashion, A team vs. B team. I did something new this time. I wanted to combine having serve-initiated play with high intensity, up tempo action. This I did by having one team serve three times to the other with normal rallies, then after the last rally finished I put the receiving team into scramble mode. My original intention was to go 30 seconds, with 30 seconds added for any balls allowed to drop uncontested, but it kind of morphed into doing it for a minute. That worked out well, though.

Coaching Log – Nov 20 2014

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2014-15.

The big focus of this training was to try to set up some line-up decisions for next week’s match. The team is going to be without its captain and starting OH2, leaving a large gap in the roster in a number of ways – particularly in passing and defense. A couple of options were available to address this, some involving more radical line-up changes than others. I needed to evaluate a couple of players in particular before making any decisions.

Believe it or not, for the first time in weeks we had all 15 players in training. We were in the bigger gym, but that’s still a lot of players for one court. I had them start off with 5-player over the net ball-handling shuttles – first forearm passing, then overhead passing – to get them moving, then had it shift to a 5-person over the net pepper. Messy.

From there I had them do some target serving after a warm-up spell. The focus was on deep serves. I wanted to do make use of the larger gym to work in serving & passing, but rather than do it in drill fashion I opted for winners 4s as the next exercise since it would feature lots of serving and 3-player reception. I started them off hitting back row, then about halfway through switched to on the net. As I’ve done a few times now, I enforced bump-setting only to continue their work on being calmer and more controlled in playing second contacts. I allowed the server coming in on the challenge side a re-serve if they missed their first, with instructions to be aggressive with the first ball. This served a few purposes. First, it encouraged the players to work on stronger and/or more strategically placed serves. Second, it enforced the idea of not missing consecutive serves. Third, it put increased pressure on the receivers.

From 4s I moved to the 5s I used a bit last week, with each side having an OH, MB, and S in the front row, plus defenders in middle and right back. Setters were fixed, with the one who’s team won the rally staying on/moving to the winners side. The intensity level was poor, though, and I called a break after a relatively short period of time, during which the captain got on the team’s case.

To try to up the intensity I next did Scramble, with the likely starters for next week’s match going against the rest. I went four times through (switching front and back row each time) with each side receiving balls for a minute. Could have gone longer, but I wanted to leave time for some regular game play. Scramble served it’s purpose, though.

I had them finish off with the same teams in a speed play standard game. By that I mean once a rally was finished the players quickly reset for the next serve and I would feed a ball into that player while the one from the last rally was cleared away. There was also a 3-serve rule such that if one team served three points in a row, after the last one they were finished and serve went across to the other team. This let us get at least twice through the rotations in about 15 minutes.

While there were a number of things I wasn’t happy with in terms of continuous development point, there were a couple of specific areas of immediate concern which I was happy with. First, the most natural replacement for the captain in OH2 played much better than she’s done of late. If she repeats that next week the team will be in pretty good shape. Second, the first teamers really dominated the second teamers for the first time all season, which suggests the stuff that clicked into place while winning Wednesday’s match wasn’t just a one-off.

Coaching Log – Nov 19 2014

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2014-15.

The second swing through the league competition started with this match. It was against the team we faced to start it all – that horrible long trip with no warm-up. My recollection was they seemed generally solid and were aggressive in the attack, both front row and back row, but without any real stud hitters. My recollection of them might have actually been a bit inflated by our own poor performance, though.

I was able to basically use the same line-up as from the last match – with the bonus of having a libero available to play on the M2 (the M1 is an all-around player). The first set was a bit back-and-forth. A string of errors put us in a hole that we never quite were able to get out of. The 28-26 score line, though, was the closest of the season thus far, which the players took some positives from. The next set was similarly tight, but we managed to come out ahead, which was a definite easing of pressure on the players. The third set it remained fairly close, but the team was getting locked in on what they needed to do to win and they won again. The opposition basically fell apart in the last set, which ended 25-10.

Things came together in a lot of ways in this match. The team learned the value of cutting down the errors and of being fully committed to keeping the ball off the floor in a team fashion. There were still some panicky moments and the occasional communication lapse that need ironing out, and I’d like to see a bit better on defense. The setter is learning to focus the offense through her strongest hitters, and is moving better on the court, but needs more consistency in set execution.

Problematic for the team moving forward is the team captain will miss the last two matches of the term – next week and the following. She plays O2 and is a major part of serve reception and defense. Those are important matches in the relegation fight. I’m going to have to consider and explore a few options in the next two training sessions.

I should not, this was my last match with the team. I’ll continue to run trainings the last two or so weeks of the term, but I won’t be with them for the two upcoming as I cannot afford the lengthy road trips at this stage of my PhD work. And I won’t be back with them second term as my focus will be on finishing up any remaining PhD work and on pursuing gainful employment. There is a definite sense of leaving a job undone, especially seeing how the team has made steady improvement these last few weeks. I go out on a high note, though, especially since the men’s team also won their first league match of the season right before the women’s match.

Coaching Log – Nov 17 2014

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2014-15.

It was a relatively straightforward session. Work on some ball-handling and serving, then get in game play to prepare for Wednesday’s final home match of the term. I started the team off doing serve receive passing in groups of 4 or 5, with one or two passers, a target, and two servers. The servers were doing overhead two-hand tosses (think soccer throw-in) to replicate a flat float serve, which also helped serve to loosen their shoulders up a bit. Each player did 10 good passes. I then had them do some target serving.

Game play started with winners 4s, full-court with fixed setters. I wanted to work them in 3-person serve reception and to give my starting setter lots of reps. At first I had them hitting back row only because we are likely to see that a lot in the upcoming match as well as to get them reaching and hitting deep. About halfway through I shifted to allow attacking on the net. I finished up playing 22 v 22, starters against non-starters.

Overall, I was generally pleased. The team’s two strongest hitters had a generally good night with some very nice aggressive swings. The one-arm digs/passes are becoming much less frequent. Still too much panicky stuff at times, and one of the first teamers simply needs to make fewer errors serving and hitting.

Coaching Log – Nov 13 2014

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2014-15.

Last night we had a match against the team I view as our major rival school. Last year we split our league matches and they beat us on a tiebreak for first place, but we beat them at Final 8s in the match that earned us a spot in the BUCS semifinals (for new readers, BUCS is the rough UK equivalent of the NCAA). They are a program with scholarships (which we don’t have), but not one which has been particularly strong at the level of the current premier league teams. Their coach told me earlier they were a bit undersized, but I figured they would make up for that enough to be solid and their current position in the standings tends to back that up. In other words, we probably going to have to put in a really good performance to beat them. This was not helped by a couple of players being unavailable creating yet more line-up challenges. I had no one to play libero, so I ended up playing a relatively inexperienced MB, but one with better back row credentials than the others.

The opposition was about what I expected. We actually jumped out to a good sized lead in the first set, I think something like 16-12. Then the wheels came off. We made a number of errors and let them blow right by to win. In the second set it was sort of the reverse. They got out to the early lead. We clawed back to the point where we had a chance to take the set in the run-in, but then missed three straight serves, including set point (4th time in the last 9 sets!). The third set started off with 2 more missed serves, which pretty much set the tone for what wasn’t really ever a close game.

I told the players during the match they need to learn to win at this point. I think if they had managed to take that first set it would have done them a world of good. The performance was improved in many facets. Blocking was better. Defense was pretty solid. There were fewer miscommunication instances (though still a couple). Setting remains the weak point of the team, but that is going to be the reality of the situation all year.

As an aside, I was talking with the opposing coach before the match last night. This is our third year coaching against each other, and since we both coach the men and women we cross paths at least 4 times each season and have connected away from matches as well. He told me about the team he thinks is the favorite to win our league this year saying he thinks they have the players to compete with last year’s two finalists (nobody else was anywhere close to them). He said if I were coaching them and not the guy who’s doing it at present, he’d like their chances of winning the championship. Nice to get that kind of praise from a peer.

Coaching Log – Nov 12 2014

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2014-15.

Ideally, this should have been a match-prep training session for the first team, but three prospective starters were missing for various reasons. As such, it ended up having to be more of a general training.

I continued my work on trying to get the players to operate in a less panicky state, slow the game down, eliminate the 1-arm digs and passes, etc. I started them off doing some ball-handling after the dynamic warm-up, followed by some serving. In line with what I did on Monday, I then had them play winners 3’s on a narrow court (2/3rds) with bump setting required, initially back row attacks only with a switch to front court about halfway through.

After that I introduced a variation of winners I used with the men’s team the other day. With the guys it was a 5s game with a setter, MB, OH, RS and middle back defender (we had 16 in training that session). For the women, because I had fewer numbers, I made it 4s – S, MB, OH, and middle back defender – and kept it on the narrow court. Setters were fixed (the one whose team won the rally went to/stayed on the winners side).

The session wrapped up with 22 vs 22 where I pitted a semblance of the starting team against the second string. I used the player who’s played OPP the last two matches at OH as despite being a lefty she had a number of very good swings on outside balls before that in the session. In her place on the right I put in one of the second team players who is a bigger block and has been coming along quite well (I actually used her for a set in at MB in the last match – and probably will again in the next one). Just wanted to see what that would look like. I only had 5 players on the B side, so I declared 6 out of bounds.

Coaching Log – Nov 10 2014

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2014-15.

After watching way too much panicky play recently, I decided to do a few things to get the players to try to slow things down and use their brains a bit more in scramble situations. The first part of that was to introduce a minor “punishment” for playing the ball one-armed. I did that right from the start when I had them do rotating partner pepper, which was then followed by 4-person over-the-net pepper.

After doing some serving, the slowing thing down idea continued with a variation of winners I had them play. They were required to bump set – no hand sets allowed. This was intended to get them focused on both technique and intention (not just flinging the ball up in the air somewhere). Initially, it was back row attacks only, but at the half-way point I allowed them to hit on the net. I finished training with the Belly Drill to get them into a more intense scramble situation.

Having the consequence for the one-arm plays definitely worked to get the players more focused on using proper technique and not just hyper-reacting to the ball. Predictably, that slipped when the pressure and intensity was turned up, which just means more work needs to be done in that regard.